Paper Grading


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A blog post from Pedagogy Unbound that offers recommendations and ideas for dealing with the paper load: “So Many Papers, So Little Time.”

This suggestion caught my eye as a good strategy for establishing a focus on audience and purpose for the writing assignment–that is, a way to get students to think about the audience and purpose for their writing (and not just for your assignment). These are important, best-practice elements of writing process that we emphasize in our guidelines for Writing Intensive courses as well as first-year writing courses.

Eliminate unnecessary tasks. You don’t want to waste your time grading an essay from a student who obviously didn’t follow instructions, or who has written 300 words on a cocktail napkin. The key here is to put in a little more work early on. Make sure students clearly understand the assignment, and what is expected of them. State explicitly what you’re looking for, and on what criteria they will be graded. Are your students able to recognize good work? Do they know what a good paper looks like? An exercise like the one I suggested last month, in which students review examples of assignments from past years and then discuss the reasoning behind each grade, can go a long way toward getting rid of unnecessarily terrible papers—the ones that always take forever to grade.

Set up pre-writing conferences. If you have time, those conferences can also help stamp out small problems before they become big ones. If time constraints mean you can’t meet with students individually, try breaking them into groups to discuss each others’ drafts and plans. You can create a simple checklist for each group to go through: Does everyone have a thesis statement? Has everyone found appropriate sources? While the groups are working, walk around the room and keep an eye out for any red flags.

We want students to understand the writing assignment–the argument, the research, the essay, whatever the genre of the writing–as having a live purpose. This makes for better writing, and for better learning. One way we can do that is to expand the audience (as this suggestion does with reviewing past examples of student writing, and creating an audience in the class) and to focus on the purpose of the paper as part of the class discussion, earlier in the process.



Why Academics Stink at Writing


Steven Pinker writes about the problem of academic writing in the Chronicle (9.29.14). The thoughts are from his new book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

You can read the article “Why Academics Stink at Writing,” or download a pdf/booklet version of it with 4 responses from experts (“And How to Fix it”) here.

Some of the specifics offered by Pinker and his respondents will be useful in addressing the teaching of writing in the major. Pinker has his eye on discipline-based academic writing, and ways to make our writing, and by extension, I would hope, our students’ writing, more readable and recognizable to an audience beyond a journal specializing in one discipline. However, it might be even more useful to take Pinker more for his inspiration than to take him at his word. Think about developing a booklet for your department and your majors. Something like:” Why ________ [insert discipline here] stink at writing and how our students can do better.”

Faculty Development Seminar: The Revision of Writing



Faculty Development Seminar: The Revision of Writing

June 16 and 17, 2014, Washington College

Sponsors: Barbara and George Cromwell Center for Teaching and Learning, the Director of Writing, and The Writing Center.

Seminar Leaders: John Boyd, Director of the Writing Center; Sean Meehan, Director of Writing

Seminar Guidelines: This two-day seminar guides faculty in developing and revising assignments and syllabi for First-Year Writing and Writing Intensive courses. The seminar will combine reading and discussion of best practices in writing pedagogy with hands-on work applying those practices to the revision and development of assignments and curriculum for a course identified by each participant. The intent is to provide the attention needed to develop and rethink assignments that can enhance our process in teaching writing, in a small-group setting, with time to get some work done outside the flux of the semester. Participants will meet on campus for sessions that will include discussion of selected texts (read in advance), workshops guided by seminar leaders, and work sessions focused on revising and developing writing curriculum informed by best practices explored in the seminar.

The sessions will be 9-4 each day, with lunch included; participants will receive a $500 stipend for the two days. A modest amount of reading in advance of the seminar will be required, with materials provided. A follow-up discussion will be planned for some point during the academic year to share lessons and experiences from the seminar and the resulting course development.

This seminar is open to anyone teaching a Writing Intensive course or a First-Year Writing Course (ENG 101 or GRW 101). This can be a course taught in the past year, a course that will be offered in the coming year, or a new course you are planning to propose.

Application: Please submit the brief application (attached), identifying your interest and the course/assignments you would be interested in developing and revising during the workshop. Send an email with the application to Sean Meehan, Director of Writing,, by Friday, May 23.




Workshop: Supporting the Writing Process

April 23, 2014, 4:30 pm in the Sophie Kerr room.

A workshop and discussion that will focus on a key principle and guideline for Writing Intensive courses: “support the writing process” (see the guidelines copied below). We will also discuss ideas and suggestions for the ongoing Task Force looking at the writing program, in particular the writing requirement beyond the first-year.

More details soon…

Writing Intensive Program: Overview and Requirements

Writing Intensive (WI) courses play a significant role in the comprehensive approach to writing at Washington College, where students write across the curriculum and throughout four years of study.  Writing Intensive courses in the sophomore and junior years provide students with a transition from the academic essentials of writing and research emphasized in the first-year seminars (Literature and Composition and GRW), and offer students an invitation to apply and deepen their writing skills in the context of a major and/or a discipline.


A WI course emphasizes two principles: (1) Writing is a way to learn, not only a demonstration of mastery of material, and (2) Writing is a process that benefits from being made visible, i.e. the various stages of writing are recognized and supported in the classroom.

Requirements for a Writing Intensive Course

Embracing these principles, courses designated as Writing Intensive will:


  1. Have at least three formal writing assignments (essay tests don’t fall into this category), spaced throughout the semester, that address issues raised by the course and encourage critical thinking.
  2. Offer students a written prompt for each assignment describing its audience, purpose, and discipline-specific requirements, e.g. documentation style.
  3. Provide opportunities to discuss the assignment when it’s distributed and periodically thereafter so that students understand the assignment’s expectations and see its connection to the themes of the course.
  4. Support the writing process.
  5. Include opportunities to write informally beyond the three major writing assignments.
  6. Evaluate formal assignments in a timely and meaningful way so that students can learn from the experience.
  7. Stipulate that grades on formal writing assignments constitute a significant percentage of the final course grade.



Recommendations for Developing a Writing Intensive Course

The seven requirements for a Writing Intensive course can be implemented in a variety of ways to fit best with the course and its discipline. Rather than transforming an existing course into a writing course, it is more effective to conceive a WI course as foregrounding writing in the discipline or major in which the course is located. Effective WI courses will foreground ways that writing is approached in the discipline and already being done in the course. The follow goals and suggestions are recommendations, not requirements, for faculty to consider. Whenever possible, a WI course should be capped at no more than 25 students in order to provide the support for the writing process that is expected.


Learning Goals of the Writing Intensive Course

Through WI courses students will develop as writers by becoming more aware of their writing, its role in the discipline, as well as in their learning and thinking.  An instructor may use the following goals to elaborate the principles of the WI course and to develop objectives and assignments specific to the course.

In a WI course, students will:


  • Understand writing as a process integral to their learning.
  • Gain an awareness of audience and purpose in writing and see themselves as part of a community of scholars and writers.
  • Recognize the conventions of writing in a particular discipline.
  • Develop strength and confidence in their writing.


Ways to Foreground Writing in the Course


  • Syllabus Statement: Put a brief statement in the course syllabus identifying the course as Writing Intensive. For example:
    • “This course fulfills Washington College’s Writing Intensive requirements, which means that in developing your strength and confidence in writing we will be focusing on the process of writing and revision, your awareness of audience and purpose in the writing you will do, as well as your grasp of basic conventions of writing in this discipline. These goals will be part of the following writing assignments counting for ____% of your overall course grade: [list at least three of the formal writing assignments in the course].”
  • Types of “Formal Writing Assignments”
    • Formal writing assignments should be discipline-based and focus on process, not merely the product.
    • Possibilities: essay, research paper, lab report, book review, literature review, grant/research proposal, speech or other formal presentation, and other types of writing assignments appropriate to the discipline of the course.
  • Opportunities for Informal or Exploratory Writing beyond the formal writing assignments:
    • Journals, brief response papers, blogs, summaries of important material
  • Supporting the Writing Process:
    • Individual conferences regarding work in progress.
    • Discussion of revision/editing techniques in class.

Teaching Writing By Hand in the Digital Age

Two recent articles from the Chronicle’s blog “The Conversation” that speak to the role and value of physically and intimately (and not virtually) learning the practice of writing.

The first comes from Joseph Harris, who visited with us in August 2012 for faculty workshops and conversation around his book Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts. Harris responds to the recent frenzied interest in all things MOOC (online education being purveyed by Harvard and his own Duke University, among other elite universities) with “Teaching By Hand in a Digital Age.” Harris argues:

It’s argued that online courses can offer students models of such response. (So can textbooks.) And, in my own courses, I often ask students to share and discuss their writing with one another. But there’s a difference between being presented with a model or heuristic and working under the guidance of a teacher. I watch over and coach the work that my students do together. And I respond to what they write, too—in class, in conference, and on the page.

If we take ourselves out of that dialogue, out of the give and take of draft and response and revision, then we are no longer teachers but content providers. Well-designed assignments and curricula are important. But they are only the very start of good teaching. A textbook is not a course. And I don’t see how a MOOC can be much more than a digitized textbook.

The key right of any learner is to the attention of his or her teacher. As my friend Eli Goldblatt says, “We teach by hand”—by which I take him to mean that we teach not subjects or courses but individuals. I suspect we still need to figure out how to offer online learners that sort of care and responsiveness.

The second article is by Mark Bauerlein who contemplates an assignment having students copy out by hand (in cursive) an essay in “The Summer Assignment.” He writes:

As a behavior resulting from years of practice, student writing doesn’t readily submit to change. In spite of all the careful classroom instruction, when a student sits down in the library to write, the old habits and unconscious dispositions kick in.

Teaching, then, becomes a matter not of supplying knowledge but of altering behavior. To improve student writing, in other words, we must inculcate better habits and dispositions.  Needless to say, a typical semester of freshman composition (or remedial English) isn’t enough. Colleges need to raise the writing component of the general-education requirements, adding another semester to the single course in writing that prevails in higher education today.

Until that happens, writing instructors can boost their impact by reaching into the summer months with a daily writing assignment. The one I have in mind is an un-innovative, non-21st century, low-technology exercise: transcription.

Think of the practice of Roman schoolchildren, 12th-century monks, and Bartleby. In this case, teachers should select an appropriate book for individual students and ask each one to devote 30 minutes each morning or evening to transcribing the prose. Open the book, find your place, grab a pen, and copy the words down in your own notebook. The selections should exemplify elements of style and grammar that students need to assimilate, for instance, Orwell’s essays, Thoreau’s Walden, and other great works of clarity and expression.

Thirty minutes a day for 100 days will advance a deep understanding of written communication, an unconscious sense of where commas go, a feel for sentence length and rhythm, a larger vocabulary, and other usage habits. It sounds laborious, but the more they transcribe, the more they will internalize effective style and correct grammar.


Workshop Sample: John Boyd


John Boyd | English 101

Third Writing Project

The Assignment:

In her “Foreword” to The Bluest Eye, Morrison poses some questions that motivated her in writing the novel, and she also expresses concern about how successful she was in portraying the devastating events that occur in Pecola’s life. For our third writing project, I’d like you to use Morrison’s reflection as a framework for understanding and coming to terms with the novel. Here’s the task:


Choose one of the passages below from Morrison’s Foreword (or another passage that seems important to you), and use that as a starting place for an essay about the novel. In the passage you choose, what problem or question does Morrison raise for herself as an author, and how does she work through that problem or question in the characters and events of the novel?


Some passages you might consider:


When I began writing The Bluest Eye, I was interested in something else. Not resistance to the contempt of others, ways to deflect it, but the far more tragic and disabling consequences of accepting rejection as legitimate, as self-evident. (ix)


The reclamation of racial beauty in the sixties stirred [my] thoughts, made me think about the necessity for the claim. Why, although reviled by others, could this beauty not be taken for granted within the community? Why did it need wide public articulation to exist? (xi)


One problem was centering the weight of the novel’s inquiry on so delicate and vulnerable a character could smash her and lead readers into the comfort of pitying her rather than into an interrogation of themselves for the smashing. (xii)


In your approach to this assignment, keep in mind the conventions of literary analysis that we’ve discussed in class. Your own argument should be driven by an observation about Morrison’s project in writing the novel, and you should draw carefully and explicitly from the text of the novel to develop your perspective.


The completed essay should be 4-5 pages in length, double-spaced, and written in a standard font (Iike Times New Roman or Cambria, 12 point), with standard page margins (1 inch or 1.25 inch). Please use MLA style documentation for this essay. Although you will only be making use of two sources – the Foreword and the novel itself – you should still include a Works Cited page with entries for each source. For a guide to MLA format, you can refer to any good writing handbook (like Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference) or you can use the free resources at the following web site:


The Process:

* One effective way to begin work on this assignment would be to reflect on our class discussions and blog entries concerning the novel so far. As you choose the passage you’d like to work with, you might also consider how some of the key words and concepts from Rewriting might apply to Morrison’s perspective on her own novel.

* An initial rough draft (at least 2 pages) is DUE and should be posted to your blog by Wednesday, November 14, at 5:00pm.

* For class on Thursday, November 15, please bring three printed copies of your draft. We’ll spend the class session reviewing the drafts together.

* The final draft of the essay will be DUE to me on Monday, November 19th, by 5:00pm. Final drafts should be emailed to me at Attach your draft as a Word document titled Yourlastname_Essay 3.doc.




You’ll receive detailed feedback from me on your completed essay, and by the end of the semester, you may choose to return to this assignment for further revision as part of your final portfolio. In evaluating your essay, I’ll consider four factors:


Development of thesis: Your third essay should be driven by an observation or perspective that adds something to what Morrison offers in her Foreword. How is your understanding of the novel changed by the concerns she brings up there?


Careful, close reading of the novel and use of the text: Your essay should focus on specific details and passages from the novel as a means of supporting your thesis. This will require that you quote from the novel and that you follow up on quotations with interpretation and discussion of your own.


Sophistication of thinking: Above all, your essay should show that you are working with Morrison’s text in a thoughtful and critical way. Your own discussion should move beyond a summary of the novel to a discussion of how the novel addresses the problems Morrison raises in the Foreword.


Effective presentation: Your final draft should demonstrate a purposeful and deliberate use of language, a logical organizational plan, and an understanding of the standard conventions of English grammar, usage, and mechanics.



Advancing an Argument

Faculty Writing Workshop: Advancing an Argument | January 29, 2013

Most students come to us knowing what a thesis is. In my experience, in fact, many will even quote chapter and verse the basic definition of a thesis statement. For example, this one provided by the UNC Writing Center:

A thesis statement:

  • tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
  • is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
  • directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
  • makes a claim that others might dispute.
  • is usually a single sentence somewhere in your first paragraph that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.

While there is nothing wrong with that definition, many of the same students have a problem moving beyond a thesis statement into a more dynamic level of argument that we expect to find in college writing. As a result, we end up with static essays that never move or advance an argument beyond the introductory statement; in some cases, struggling to reach a more complex argument we are expecting, students will even leave out the basic thesis, leaving the essay static and pointless.

The problem, I suggest, is that students don’t grasp a more crucial element of any argument–something even simpler and more familiar to them than the word “thesis.” An argument, any argument, in any discipline, needs a problem. For further background on this approach to college writing across the curriculum, I direct you to Bean’s Engaging Ideas, particularly chapter 6 in which he focuses on “designing problem-based assignments” in formal writing assignments. For some of my additional thinking on how I approach the “problem” problem in student writing, see my post “Argument: You Got a Problem with That?” You might also be interested to see the post on this same topic that I present to my English 101 students, focusing on ways to set up the basic problem of an argument.

Finally, consider these materials/samples from faculty that were shared and discussed in the workshop:

Sean Meehan: sample from English 101 writing assignment

Moriah Purdy: sample from English 101, focusing attention on the tension needed for an argument.

Julie Markin: sample from GRW, problem foregrounded in terms of questions and assertions in response.

John Boyd: sample from English 101, responding to a problem posed by the author of a novel.

Workshop Sample: Moriah Purdy

Samples from Moriah Purdy’s English 101

Project 2: Literary Analysis of Jane: A Murder


We’ve been discussing our own writing processes at length in the first assignment as we begin to heighten our own self-awareness as authors. We’ve attempted to describe roadblocks, and difficulties and have begun to clarify our sense of how and why we write the way that we do. As you’ve learned about yourself, your own habits and moves have been informed by a variety of experiences. This, of course, is true for all writers.


Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder, is a hybrid text with poems, literary excerpts, re-scripted conversations and correspondence, elements of memoir, and much more. From the get-go, it’s clear that, despite the title, Nelson’s approach to handling the mystery surrounding the murder of her aunt is not your typical approach to the murder-mystery narrative. Nelson’s moves and motives certainly take advantage of our expectations for what a murder-mystery should look and feel like, however, so it’s precisely that interpretive context you’ll make use of in this essay project (see Writing Analytically for a refresher on interpretive contexts, if you need one).


Guidelines for this project* 


  • Offer an argument that answers the following question: How does Nelson’s treatment of conventional murder-mystery storytelling affect your interpretation of Nelson’s purpose for writing this book? To do so, you’ll want to focus on the moves Nelson makes. Specifically, how and why does Nelson fulfill, contradict, and/or exploit our expectations for what a murder-mystery text should be? How and why does Nelson reference and make use of those expectations to shape her project?  Feel free to refer to the Law and Order SVU episode and our in-class analysis for help identifying murder-mystery conventions.
  • Identify a point of tension your argument works against. Tension in an argument allows you to counter other possible interpretations or assumptions, which means that there is something at stake in your project. Without something at stake, a thesis statement will often come across as observation or reaction rather than a contestable idea. Elements of tension in thesis statements often begin with turns of phrase such as “Although…” or “While it might seem that…” so that it is clear to your reader the idea/issue/assumption you are working against in your essay.
  • Practice close reading and textual analysis to support your claims. Your essay should demonstrate close and effective reading and analysis as evidence for your claims. The details you cite should include Nelson’s formal and structural decisions as much as specifics at the language level. Remember to refrain from non-analytical moves such as pre-judging, generalizing, and/or over-personalizing.




  • Your essay should be the equivalent of 3 to 5 pages (around 900 to 1500 words). The final will be due on October 9th.
  • The essay will be worth 20% of your final grade.
  • Working drafts (around 600 words, due September 25th), peer review (September 27th), and one-on-one conferences (October 4th – 6th) will help you in the writing process for this essay. Peer review and conference reflections will count as in-class writing.
  • As always, see the Course Projects page for general instructions and for details on the criteria by which essays will be evaluated. Note: Attending to the guidelines above will count toward the “appropriateness” category.


Evaluation Criteria


Writing projects will be assessed on the following five criteria:


  1. 1.     Appropriateness: The components of this criterion will change/evolve depending on the individual project. An appropriate response to the assignment will include all of the key components as outlined in the guidelines for each individual assignment’s prompt. This criterion, in part, assesses how carefully you paid attention to the prompt. Note: not meeting this criterion will inevitably affect your ability to succeed in the other areas. 
  2. Sophistication of the thinking (the complexity of the idea/argument). The level of complexity and nuance in your thinking will always be rewarded. You should use the writing project as an opportunity to solve problems and increase the depth of your thinking. This, in part, demonstrates that you are taking on the assignment with genuine interest and investment. The argument (the result of this thinking) should make it clear to the reader what is at stake in the essay. Ambitious, difficult ideas will always be rewarded over simplistic ones, even if the ambitious idea isn’t fully realized in the essay.
  3. Logical presentation of the thinking (organization and transition). The organization of the essay must follow a logical pattern for the reader. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself: “What have I already presented to my audience? What do they need to know next?” Take your readers on the journey of your thinking, and make sure they feel secure and guided through it (make your implicit ideas explicit in your details). Your essay should answer “so what?” at every turn. Rather than “proving” yourself right you should make use of your evidence to complicate and expand (to add new energy and momentum) to your argument. In other words, your argument should evolve as the essay progresses.
  4. Genuine engagement with the writing process. Each phase of your process (working drafts submitted for peer review, drafts presented to conferences, and revisions) should demonstrate that you are invested in the task of further developing and complicating your thinking, and that you have taken advantage of the strategies you’ve learned, the time afforded, and the feedback provided to you. Remember: revision is re-thinking. Additions or mechanical corrections alone will not demonstrate improvement.
  5. Adherence to academic convention and stylistic proficiency.  Written work submitted for grading should exhibit language that is deliberate and grammatically sound. Academic conventions for the introduction of quotations and citations should be followed cleanly and accurately. Language should be free from typos and other mechanical slippage. This criterion also accounts for adherence to the aforementioned “logistics” above.


When I evaluate your essays I will provide two kinds of feedback: First, I will assign the values of “highly successful,” “successful,” “adequate,” “poor,” or “absent” for each criteria above, and secondly I will write a substantive terminal note which will summarize and qualify my assessment of your success in these areas, ask questions that came up during my reading, and offer suggestions for revisions and future thinking. Although there are always negotiations to be made in determining the overall success of a written work (see note on ambitious arguments above), together these approaches to feedback will help you interpret how I arrived at your grade. In general, essays deemed “highly successful” in all areas will receive an “A,” essays deemed “successful” in all areas will receive a “B,” and so forth. Remember, all formal assignments may be revised for an improved grade. 


Workshop Sample: Argument as Questions and Assertions

Research Paper Assignment from Julie Markin’s GRW.



Section Draft Due: March 26                                                            30 points

Rough Draft Due: April 2                                                                        25 points


Final REVISED Paper Due: April 9                                                80 points

            **A hard copy is due in class, and you must also submit an electronic copy to**


The research assignment is designed to engage you in scholarly research and the process of academic presentation of your independent research.

As such, your paper should be a critical analysis of your topic and should:
[1] Clearly describe your research question/topic and assertions

[2] Provide ample support for your assertions or critiques through appropriate archaeological or historical reports, journal articles, theoretical pieces, etc.

[3] Recognize and address any evidence that might provide a contrary position

[4] Concisely summarize the results of your analysis and any suggestions for future research that might improve our understanding of your topic


Papers are expected to be 7-10 pages in length with standard margins (1 inch) and font (Courier is NOT acceptable).  Full references [minimum of eight, 5 must be scholarly] included at the end of the paper and citations made throughout the body of the paper must follow the American Psychological Association format (see Hacker pp.463-483.)


Grading Criteria:


As a piece of scholarly inquiry, your research paper will be graded most heavily (50%) in regard to its content.  Content is comprised of a clear research question/topic, and, most critically, of adequate and appropriate evidence to address and/or support your research topic/question.  Ungrounded or unsubstantiated assertions will negatively affect your grade – utilize your references to ground and support your assertions.



Writing competency will constitute the second largest portion (30%) of your grade.  Competency will assess how well your paper flows and holds together as a whole.  Thus, pay attention to transitions, sentence fragments and run-ons, and parallelism with arguments.  Also, be sure that your paper clearly follows a logical progression of ideas (e.g. from more general to more specific or from specific to generalizations).  There must be an internal consistency to your paper in which your arguments clearly relate to your main research topic/question and flow well from one to the next.


Accurate spelling, grammar, and punctuation

One point will be deducted for each spelling, grammar, or punctuation error.  Proofread and edit your final product BEFORE turning in your assignment.


Appropriate length and format

A paper that is too short in length likely will not be able to clearly and appropriately develop a research question, provide adequate evidence to support research assertions, and coherently summarize research findings.

Workshop Sample: Advancing an Argument


Professor Meehan | English 101

Writing Project #1: Reflective Wreading

Purpose: To engage in the development and revision of a critical argument in writing that responds to a problem relating to the texts and ideas we are exploring in the course. In other words, you will be developing in each assignment a thesis-governed essay. In addition, the purpose in each case will be to focus in on a particular element of critical writing and thinking–the learning focal points: critical reflection, close reading, integration of critical arguments.

Format: The writing projects should be approximately 3-5 double-spaced pages (12 point font, standard margins), unless otherwise noted. For any citations, use MLA format [in-text citation; works cited at end–refer to Purdue OWL] Each project will be submitted to Blackboard as well as posted to your blog. The copy uploaded to Blackboard must include a brief self-reflection above the essay and an Honor Code Statement at the bottom.

Self-Reflection: 2-3 sentences identifying

[1]something in the essay that you feel is strong/effective and that you focused on in developing and revising this project (what’s working?),

[2]something you think you need to improve/develop, possibly add to your list (what else?),

[3]and something further you might do with this essay  should you return to this essay for the final project (what’s next?).

Honor Code statement: I pledge my honor that I have completed this work in accordance with the Honor Code.

Approximately means that a piece much shorter than 3, or much longer than 5, is in need of revision and rethinking for the purposes of the given assignment.

Audience: I am only the initial reader of your essay. Since we are emphasizing that writers seek to communicate their writing in a variety of public/published forms, you need to consider a larger audience for each of the essays–and let that audience inform your writing and revision. Generally speaking, your audience for these projects will be readers who are interested in what first-year students at Washington College are writing and learning. This means that they have a basic knowledge of this course and its assignments, but no specific knowledge of the texts you are discussing or ideas you are exploring. One goal of mine is to have you submit a final version of one of these essays for publication in a digital magazine I am developing for first-year writers at Washington College. Readers of that magazine will be: your peers, other professors on campus, your parents, future students–all interested in getting a better view of how first-year students at WAC think and write.

Topic: Develop a 3-5-page essay that reflects on, and argues for, your understanding of the significance of reading and/or writing. You have some models to consider (Graff, Birkerts, Harris) for how strong and engaging critical writing can be effective and deliberate in using autobiographical reflection to develop its focus on significant ideas. In other words, your essay should demonstrate your understanding that autobiographical reflection (at least the kind I want to read) does not mean merely writing about yourself—should not read like a resume.

◦                The question you will be answering in this essay (think of your thesis as the answer to this question): What is your view of the significance of reading/writing and how has that view been shaped by your experience as a reader/writer? In other words, what does it mean, from your perspective, to read and/or write? [I am leaving it up to you whether you want to deal with reading or writing or some combination of the two]

◦                Learning Focal Point for this project: Critical Reflection—developing significance and focus through reflection. As Harris argues (Rewriting), “coming to terms” with other texts requires strong reflection from the writer. One way you should focus your attention and your argument/thesis (or what Harris calls a “project”): cite and explain what Birkerts or Graff or Harris say about reading/writing–and use that to then focus on your own view in response.  Your essay must have at least one quotationin it (from either Birkerts or Graff or Harris), effectively incorporated into your “project” (argument/thesis) for this essay.

Some suggestions for developing your argument and its focus:

Identify and respond to a problem:

Use a critic to set up the problem: Although Birkerts argues that reading is X, in my view reading is Y.

Use your earlier self/views to set up the problem: Although I used to view reading/writing as ___, now I understand that ____.


Evaluation: Rubric for Writing Projects

In the liberal arts tradition, before there were courses in writing, before there were even courses in English departments, the curriculum focused on three related elements for composing a speech and (later) a written text: logic, rhetoric, and grammar. By the time Washington College was founded in the late 18th century, the term used for all three areas was Rhetoric: the art of effective and compelling composition

We can think of those three elements today as categories that a strong writer works on when producing a composition and that an engaged reader expects from the composition when receiving it.  These three categories, renamed and elaborated below, provide the rubric we will use in developing writing projects and that I will use when evaluating the final versions of each project. Your goal, then, is the same goal I have with my own academic writing: strong, rhetorically successful composition of thought, ideas, and arguments.

[1]Critical Thinking [the ‘logic’]

  • Complexity of your thinking:
    • A stake and purpose and complication to your thinking—answering: So what? Who Cares? What’s the difference?
    • Refinement of your thinking:
      • Elaboration of key terms, providing new insights for conventional ideas, complicating simplistic ways of thinking about a topic (including your own assertions).
    • Effective statement and reiteration (threading) of your thesis/argument throughout the composition.
  • Evidence and support for your thinking, your argument:
    • Effective and thoughtful use of texts and arguments of others—your participation in the critical conversation; effective address of arguments other than and/or counter to your own.
    • Effective use of logic and avoidance of logical fallacies.
  • Element to focus on while reading, responding, composting, and revising.

[2]Rhetorical Knowledge and Writing Process [the ‘rhetoric’]

  • Arrangement of your critical reading as a dynamic narrative (not a static thesis):
    • Paragraph structure:
      • Movement (transition) from effective beginning (introduction), middle (supporting readings, complications) and ending (conclusion) in your narrative;
      • Movement within each paragraph, from initial to closing sentence.
    • Effective introduction and conclusion:
      • Setting up the context of your argument/focus and leaving the reader with implications for further thinking.


  • Development of the composition:
    • Deliberate reading of ideas and texts in key moments of your narrative:
      • Close/slow reading of text, including effective use of citation/quotation.
    • Stylistic engagement of your audience/reader in the composition:
      • Ethos and pathos, in addition to logos.
      • Use of language, images and rhetorical figures that impress, enhance, surprise, move, and address the reader as well as your focus.
  • Elements to focus on while revising and editing.

[3]Conventions [the ‘grammar’]

  • Attention to deliberate and specific use of language:
    • Deliberate choice in words (precision, connotation) and syntax:
      • For example: passive and active sentences; varying long and short sentences.
    • Being specific with the medium you are writing about (print, film, digital) and the medium you are using (example: might you include an image in your text?).
  • Attention to cleanliness of your presentation:
    • Editing usage for misspelling, typos, missing words, incomplete sentences or thoughts;
    • Editing violations of academic and print writing conventions that you have not consciously chosen for effect.
  • Attention to the formal presentation of your narrative:
    • Effective title, possible epigraph (?).
    • Effective formatting, spacing, indenting, proper use of style conventions for citation.
  • Elements to focus on while editing.



For each project, there will be a focal point adding a fourth category to the evaluation and focus for that composition: reflection, slow reading, specificity, revision. These focal points are ways we will be thinking about approaching the project and ways to improve upon all three areas of the composition. In that sense, they are not separate elements of strong writing so much as lenses we will use to focus on our writing process, from compost through revision to completion.

Each of the four categories will be worth 25 points. The scale I will use is the following.

24-25: excellent; the element (for example: critical reading or development or presentation) is prominent in the composition, demonstrating a thorough and impressive grasp—ready to experiment with other or new items on list.

23: very strong; the element is present and effective, very good grasp—almost ready to check off list.

20-22: strong; the element is mostly present and effective, demonstrating a good grasp with room to continue development to enhance effect—keep on list.

18-19: proficient; the element is present in spots, but not effectively or consistently present, demonstrating an emerging grasp in need of further development—keep on list for next project.

15-17: weak; the element is mostly absent, not effective in the composition, demonstrating a limited grasp in need of more extensive development—keep on list and take into conference with me and/or writing center before next project.

10-14: insufficient; the element fails to be present and is not addressed by the writer, demonstrating a poor grasp in need of immediate focus—plan a conference right away to discuss further what could be improved for the next project.

below 10: not evident or not completed as expected


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